Rochdale Town Hall
Rochdale Town Hall is:
“widely recognised as being one of the finest municipal buildings in the country”,
and is rated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building. The Town Hall up until very recently functioned as the ceremonial headquarters of Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and housed local government departments, including the borough’s civil registration office.
In 1856 the newly formed Rochdale Corporation suggested plans to build a town hall in which to conduct its business. The site of an abandoned 17th-century house known as The Wood was proposed and six months later, in April 1860, Rochdale Corporation arranged to buy the site on the outskirts of the town centre for £4,730 (£401,000 as of 2013). However, plans were shelved due to lengthy negotiations and increasing land prices. In January 1864 the scheme resumed with a new budget of £20,000 (£1,580,000 as of 2013). The wood and surrounding area were cleared, but it is unknown what became of the dispossessed; there was no legal requirement for the authorities to rehouse the former inhabitants.
A design competition to find a “neat and elegant building” was held by the Rochdale Corporation, who offered the winning architect a prize of £100 and a Maltese cross souvenir. From a competition held in 1864, 27 entries were received and William Henry Crossland was chosen to design a new Town Hall.
The Rochdale-born statesman John Bright laid the foundation stone on 31 March 1866.
The design had a 240-foot (73 m) clock tower topped by a wooden spire, money was “lavished” on the decor and fittings, and the cost of the building increased year-on-year throughout its build. Costs rocketed, caused by a combination of mismanagement, overspending and unauthorised work. Public criticism of the high cost was aimed at Crossland and the Mayor George Leach Ashworth, who oversaw the work. Nevertheless, Rochdale Town Hall was ultimately celebrated as “a source of pride”, and its completion prompted celebration and rejoicing.
The opening ceremony was performed by Mayor Ashworth on 27 September 1871 although the cost had, by then, increased beyond expectations from the estimated £40,000 to £160,000, at todays prices £12,610,000.
In around 1883 dry rot was found in the high spire, contractors were engaged to rebuild it but while they were dismantling the top section of the wooden spire at 9:20 am on 10 April 1883, a blaze was discovered. Despite the efforts of volunteers and the local fire brigade, 100 minutes after the discovery of the fire the entire spire, including a statue of Saint George and the Dragon, had been destroyed.
Alfred Waterhouse was given the task of designing a stone replacement. His work on the clock tower, which was built between 1885 and 1887 about 15 yards (14 m) further to the east than the original, shows many similarities to Manchester Town Hall, which he also designed. The new tower was opened in 1888.
On 15 January 1931, at the height of the Great Depression in the United Kingdom, the Territorial Army was called to guard the Town Hall during a protest against unemployment and hunger.
In May 1938, Rochdale-born actress, singer and comedienne Gracie Fields was granted Honorary Freedom of the Borough for her contribution to entertainment. “When the ceremony was over, Gracie went onto the town hall balcony to receive the cheers and good wishes of the thousands of people who were packing the streets below.”
Although it is not fully understood how it came to his attention, Rochdale Town Hall was admired by Adolf Hitler. It has been suggested a visit by Hitler in 1912–13 while staying with his half-brother Alois Hitler, Jr. in Liverpool, or military intelligence on Rochdale, or information from Nazi sympathiser William Joyce (who had lived in Oldham), brought the building to his attention. Hitler admired the architecture so much that it is believed he wished to ship the building, brick-by-brick, to Nazi Germany had German-occupied Europe encompassed the United Kingdom. Rochdale was broadly avoided by German bombers during the Second World War.Art critic Nikolaus Pevsner described the building as possessing a “rare picturesque beauty”. Its stained glass windows are credited as “the finest modern examples of their kind”. The building even came to the attention of Adolf Hitler, who was said to have admired either the Town Hall or at least the stained glass so much, that he wished to ship it out to Nazi Germany had the United Kingdom been defeated in the Second World War.
On yer bike Adolf!